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From the JargonFile:

[NealStephenson's] epic, comic cyberpunk novel is deeply knowing about the hacker psychology and its foibles in a way no other author of fiction has ever even approached. His imagination, his grasp of the relevant technical details, and his ability to communicate the excitement of hacking and its results are astonishing, delightful, and (so far) unsurpassed.

Review by SunirShah: If you call yourself a webfiend, if you like playing with (vs. "on") online communities, get this book and read it. Do it. Do it now. Or be destined to always be a grainy black and white avatar.

This book is not only funny, well paced, well written but well thought. Stephenson's obsession with Wiki:ThreeRingBinders, GatedCommunities, and sword fighting twist together to give you a picture of the future as a more characterized today. It's probably going to happen. See you in the MetaVerse.

Review by DavidChess here: [1] (The first 150 pages were the best, but hey...)

1984, 480pp. ISBN 0553380958 (alternate, search)

More reviews and discussion at BookShelved:SnowCrash


Just to ruin it for you, the book takes the theory that the human mind is a TuringMachine? for granted, and then suggests it can be crashed given the right symbolic program; i.e. a LethalText, which in the novel is akin to a worm or virus in the zoology of software. It actually goes much further than this, talking about memetics, the origins of consciousness, the value of individuality, the absurdity of libertarianism, construction of a HiveMind, a rip on Scientology, and a billion other things.

Alright, having just finished this novel 30 minutes ago for the second time in my life (eight years later), and reading it instead of cramming for an exam I have in 15 hours, I have to say a few things. One, the whole Mesopotamian thing still doesn't make any sense, despite having a much better understanding of what he was going on about (e.g. LethalText). It reads to me like Stephenson just spooged the whole theory into the book in as few words as he could, so it ends up falling flat. I suspect he actually wrote reams of text on his theories and had an editor force him to cut the word length. If he didn't telemark the whole thing by framing the entire discussion in a particular scene and environment (with the Librarian; and with 'Lagos'), but instead pulled the story through a revelation of the characters, he might have been able to put more of the theory in without making it seem like the reader was expected to swallow this furry bolus.

That being said, while eight years ago as a geeky teenager I was really into Hiro Protagonist and the whole MetaVerse thing, even going so far as trying to build one until I was 19, these days I find Y.T.'s ripping on Hiro to be oddly familiar to constant criticisms I face in my own life. Of course, her own superhuman stylings get a bit weak. More troubling is that as she's built up as the epitome of perfection in the book, Stephenson is claiming that radical fuck you individualism is the way to go in life, especially since she as TheIndividual is the stark contrast to the HiveMind of L. Bob Rife (our L. Ron Hubbard personage).

Yeah, and I'm slinging punchier prose here because I'm geneflucting before Stephenson, a chill talespinner. If I keep doing this, please shoot me. (Maybe I should edit this later.:) -- SunirShah

I object to Y.T. being the "epitome of perfection" as she constantly finds herself in trouble. In fact, her own SelfDestructive? leanings make her all the more fumbling as a persona. She finds herself attracted to the Inuit Raven even though she knows that he's a very bad man. If not for the CodeRed? (I think that's what they called it) she'd have been killed on the copter. I think it's more of the type of reader projecting into the reading. When I first read the book, I too say Y.T. as too much of a comic book like character; all quips and acrobatics but, reading the book as an adult I found that Y.T. is a girl more frayed emotionally than Hiro. Her contrast to L. Bob Rife is an important thing to point out as that means that she can act as his counterbalance in the book.


A rejoinder about Stephenson's Sumerian myth in Snow Crash

The above comments by SunirShah regarding Stephenson's treatment of mythology and linguistic origins, the connection between ancient systems of belief and the development of language in general, and the study of memetics, does not do justice to the amount of research and solid story-telling in Snow Crash. The theories Stephenson makes use of are fanciful extensions of actual theories concerning human language development, and the connection between language (especially written language when it began to appear) and our beliefs about the world. Essentially, the book explores the possibility of a metavirus which is able to affect humans by giving instructions at a level below our conscious knowledge, but imbedded in the low-level instructions our brain uses for interpreting language (definitely informed by the neo-cartesian school of linguists, like Noam Chomsky, for those keeping track). Stephenson links ancient Mesopotamian ideas about magical formulae, which were controlled by the priest class and used to direct human activities for every civic function and said to be given to people by the gods (particularly Enki), with postmodern ideas about programming, memetics and religion. Too deep to get into further, but check it out on Wikipedia if you are uncertain - no call to blame the author, if you know a little bit about mythology and history, or have some good reference material handy, there should be no problems. A terrific read! (Also, visit Neal's official website and read InTheBeginningWasTheCommandLine? for more of Neal's interesting use of religious metaphor.)

It's clever and hilariously funny, but the whole story is written using the present tense, or at least enough of it to be annoying -- it tends to read like the worst fanfic in those parts. He wears out the pizza "deliverator" gag so badly that it's just not funny by the end. It's not a bad book, but I'd say Zodiac is a better work (and perhaps TheDiamondAge as well, were the last quarter of it not so rushed and incoherent).

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